Disproportionate responses to people’s behaviour around us cause a lot of unpleasantness. When we are on the other side don’t we feel for the ‘crime’ we committed the ‘punishment’ is in excess? Disproportionate responses indicate something is not right. They also reek of unfairness. Often the disproportionate responses are because the person reacting perceives the ‘crime’ as huger than it is or that the ‘loss’ suffered is too big.
I was staying with a friend who had a grown-up son who was in the last year of graduation and had received a job offer to be taken up three months down the lane. The son would go to the gym at seven in the morning and return by eight after some hard workout. He would have a bath and leave in the next half hour. As soon as he returned from the gym, my friend, the father lashed out at the boy
“You left the fan on for an hour. How many times have I told you to switch it off before you leave? You don’t care about current consumption in the house. I get a fat bill every month because of you. Do you know how much current you are wasting? Why will you worry, it is your dad who is paying for it. You start paying for it and you will know”
The rant went on for another twenty minutes with my friend fulminating and the boy apologising and defending himself in turn. For the next half hour until the son left home, both the father and son did not speak to each other. As the son was leaving home, the father gave him hundred rupees for expenses of the day.
The episode had a rerun the next day too.
“Does this happen every day?” I asked him.
“Not every day but on many days, it does. He is so careless. He does not care about money. I get fat bills because he leaves fan on even when he is not there.” my friend said and continued, “I don’t like to tell him every day because it spoils the home atmosphere before he leaves home and my mood is also upset but I can’t stand money being wasted”
Money being wasted was an issue but he did not know how much money was actually being wasted. And whether the ‘money’ being wasted needed half an hour lecture and spoiling the home atmosphere for everyone. It is true that we should not waste resources but without realizing the quantum of resources being wasted if we start reacting to loved ones around us, we look foolish for being irrational. As a parent, it may be wiser to hold your ammunition for bigger and more important things.
“Would you care if you or your son wasted 25 paise in a day?” I asked him
“Twenty-five paisa? What do we get for that today? Nothing. The coin itself is out of circulation.”
“Would you give a fifteen-minute lecture if someone wasted twenty-five paisa in a day?” I asked him
He became a little wary and suspicious of my intent.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Your son by leaving the fan on for an hour is wasting twenty-five paisa. Does that pinch you so much that you will haul him up for that?”
“Ridiculous” he retorted, “It is not that small. If it is that small, I would not bother to even point it out”
“What do you think is the wattage of your fan?” I asked
“Must be about 50 watts” he replied, “Most fans are in that range”
“So he is spending 50 watts if he leaves it on for an hour, right?” I checked
“Yes that is right”
“For the electricity in the city you pay five rupees for a kilowatt, don’t you?” I asked.
He located the bill of the previous month to check.
“Yes”, he said, ‘we are in that slab. We pay five rupees for a kilowatt”
“For one thousand watts you pay five rupees, basic maths tells you that for a 50-watt consumption, you will pay 25 paise” I pointed out, “So if someone uses the fan for an hour, they pay twenty-five paisa only. If he does that for the whole month, he will be wasting seven rupees fifty paise”
My friend could not believe it. He took the newspaper lying on the table, grabbed a pen and worked out the Math more than once.
“It is really true,” he said sheepishly, “He is wasting twenty-five paisa and getting a lecture for twenty minutes”
“Perhaps if you still feel the wastage is too high, you could deduct twenty-five paisa from the hundred rupees you give him every day” I suggested with a grin.
“That’s ridiculous” he replied, “Neither would he be affected by twenty-five paisa nor would I be. But why does it feel the wastage is more than that?" he asked
"You figure it out" I responded
The next day, I had to leave, so I could not witness what happened between them following this conversation. But it made me aware of how often we respond disproportionately to events around us. Irrationality is built into us and unless we become conscious of it, we will continue to be in its grip.